Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers get Fayetteville for first time

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers travel to No. 4 Fayetteville for the first round of the Class 7A playoffs Friday night in a game that will be the first-ever between the two tradition-rich schools. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Even though Cabot (6-4) is the No. 3 seed from the East and Fayetteville (8-2) is the four seed from the West, the Panthers still have to travel to Washington County because the Panthers are essentially a five seed.

The East and Central conferences have an even mix of 7A and 6A teams, so the conferences combined seeding ranks, and since Cabot finished behind Conway, North Little Rock, Little Rock Central and Bryant in conference play, the Panthers are really playing as a five seed.

Fayetteville’s conference consists only of 7A teams, and since the Bulldogs finished fourth in the West among the eight teams in the conference, they get home-field advantage this week.

The only common opponent the two teams faced this year is North Little Rock. The Charging Wildcats, the No. 1 East seed, lost 43-33 to Fayetteville in week two, and NLR beat Cabot in the conference opener two weeks later by the final score of 41-14.

“Really we’re a five (seed) going to a four,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “They (Fayetteville) beat North Little Rock by 10 points. North Little Rock beat us by 27. They throw the ball a lot. They got a good quarterback.

“They probably like to throw it a little more than they run it. They’re probably 60/40 throwing it and running it.”

Fayetteville dropped from the No. 1 West seed all the way to No. 4 with last week’s 45-2 blowout loss to Bentonville, the defending 7A state champion. The Bulldogs, however, could still be in position to make a lengthy playoff run, given the talent they have on both sides of the ball.

Leading the Bulldogs’ Spread offense is sophomore quarterback Taylor Powell (6-0, 190). Powell has shown a lot of potential, even at the junior high level, where he shattered passing records previously held by Razorback quarterbacks Brandon and Austin Allen.

The Bulldogs have another talented sophomore in the backfield in Terrance Rock (5-10, 170), who ran for more than 1,800 yards and 30 touchdowns in junior high. Rock possesses 4.4 speed, and is just one of Fayetteville’s many offensive weapons.

Fayetteville’s receiving corps is plentiful, but the most noticeable target is senior Razorback commit C.J. O’Grady (6-5, 230; 4.7 speed). O’Grady hauled in 45 passes for 884 yards and 14 TDs at his tight end position a year ago, and committed to the Hogs over scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Texas and Stanford.

“They score a bunch of points,” Malham said. “They had mercy rules the last two games before Bentonville, against Rogers and Rogers Heritage. They just had a bad game Friday night (against Bentonville) – didn’t look like they had all year long for some reason. Bentonville probably had something to do with that.”

Defensively, Malham said Fayetteville bases out of a 4-3, but he doesn’t see them lining up in that against his run-heavy Dead-T attack.

“They’re a 4-3, but I don’t see them running that against us,” Malham said. “It’ll be just like every other week when we play somebody we haven’t played before. We’ll find out what they’re going to do when we get that ball for the first time.”

Fayetteville has plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball as well, including senior free safety Dre Greenlaw (6-0, 220; 4.5 speed), who is also committed to the Razorbacks.

Despite the talent the Bulldogs have on defense, Malham is confident his team can move the ball against them, considering the Panther offense hasn’t had much trouble moving the chains against any other team it’s faced this season.

Cabot finished every game this year with more offensive yards than its opponent, including 476 yards in last week’s win over Searcy.

“We haven’t had trouble moving the ball all year,” Malham said. “We had a little trouble getting the ball in the end zone the two games prior to that (win against Searcy). We’ve moved it on everybody, and if you went by stats we’d be 10-0, but stats don’t win ball games. You got to put the ball in the end zone.

“If we hang onto it, and not turn it over, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Sophomore Jarrod Barnes, who moved from quarterback to running back after breaking his thumb late in the regular season, is still expected to get plenty of snaps in the backfield Friday, but senior two-way standout Jake Ferguson will miss his fifth-consecutive game this week because of a torn meniscus.

Malham said Ferguson could perhaps come back next week if the Panthers can advance to the second round with a win Friday night.